How we rolled

Walking back from the shops the other day, I spotted a couple of young teenage boy with a homemade Billy cart trying to get going on what is a pretty level road. It brought back memories.

I reckon it’s ages since I last saw a billy cart, but when I was a kid, they were all the rage. I remember mine very well, as it was pretty well a deluxe version – it even had a brake (more usually, you would break with the heels of your shoes).

I can’t remember, but judging by the construction, there must have been some adult involvement in constructing the thing. Outside the breaks, it was pretty typical of most billy-carts – old pram wheels, ideally smaller ones at the front, bolted onto a box in which you sat and connected to the front wheels via a length of timber sufficient to reach with knees half bent. There was a loop of cord connected to either end of the front axle to allow for steering, and, in my case, there was a hand lever brake on the right that, when applied, would fix a block of wood to the rear wheel.

Most of us had billy-carts then and would spend time fixing them up and racing them. There was a lot of kids in our street and so a fair bit of competition, but as I was bigger than most and had the primo billy-cart, I would win most. We lived in a culture de sac that had a good slope on it so that you could get a lot of speed up and momentum after the initial push-off. A sweeping turn to the right – maybe a 70-degree curve – would bring some riders to grief if they were going too quick. It made it really interesting, though.

That was back in the day when various prangs and accidents were part and parcel of growing up. I remember once riding a scooter down the footpath of the same street. I got to the end of the street to find a hole where the pavement should be and a block of bricks preventing any exit to the right. I crashed, and later on would proudly count about 30 odd different scrapes, bruises and cuts on me.

Another time, I remember, we were building a tree hut in the neighbour’s pine tree. Somehow we’d got an old door up the tree, which we planned to use as the floor. It hadn’t yet been fixed in place when I climbed on top of it, planning to put a few nails through it. Not to be. Before I could do anything, the door began to slide out from under me, taking me with it. We came crashing to the ground below with me basically surfing the door down. It was a crazy, surreal feeling, like a disaster unfolding in slow-motion, but pretty heady, too. I’m not sure if I somehow found myself under the door once we hit the ground. I can remember the ringing in my ears and a sore head – I was probably concussed – but I shook it off, and we went back to it. I was about 10 then.

Then there was another occasion, the same street, we were playing kick to kick with the footy. WE would do that plenty in the winter months. I was probably 10-12. On the corner was a big water tank behind a high, barbed wire fence. Someone kicked the ball into the enclosure, and I climbed the fence to retrieve it.

It was not unusual for mischievous boys like us to go where we weren’t meant to (there was the time we nearly burnt down my old school – another story), but this time it didn’t work out so well. Getting over the top of the barbed wire, I managed to snag my wrist on it. The skin tore as I freed myself. I retrieved the ball, kicked it back, then climbed back over the fence.

There was a fair bit of blood, but I was happy to continue until the father of one of my mates suggested I should get my parents to look at my injury. I don’t think they did much. Put a band-aid on it, probably. I was out kicking the footy anyway within 10 minutes.

I’ve still got the scar – about 15 mm long and jagged. I’m pretty certain I should have got stitches, but that was how we rolled then.

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